Maxime Talbot hits his stride

By Simon Richard

Center Maxime Talbot, a Lemoyne, Quebec native, was the ninth choice of Pittsburgh Penguins at the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. Looking to his progression since then, the organization should consider itself fortunate to have gotten him so late in the draft.

Talbot’s progression

Born in 1984, Talbot became a regular QMJHL player at 16 years old, which is not common. Selected by Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, he was sent to Hull Olympiques in mid-season. In his rookie year, he earned a total of 37 points in 64 games. The following year, he increased his production to 60 points in 65 games.

Obviously, neither those numbers impressed the NHL scouts nor his total of 138 and 174 penalties minutes in each of his first two junior seasons. At that time, the 5’10’’ and 176-pound prospect had a gritty character but was not that big. NHL scouts didn’t believe he was a top prospect even though he worked hard on the ice.

Two years later, Talbot has now completed his fourth QMJHL regular season. At 5’11’’, 185 pounds, the Gatineau Olympiques (formerly Hull) team captain is now a little bit taller and bigger.

His offensive production rose to 104 points in 2002-03. This season, he kept progressing, recording almost two points per game with 98 points in only 51 games. On the other way, his total of penalties minutes decreased, sinking to 130 last year and 41 minutes this season from the total of 174 in 2001-02.

Talbot missed 19 games of this year’s regular season mainly because he was selected to play on Team Canada for the WJC in Finland. His leadership was recognized as he was named Team Canada assistant captain. Playing on the third line, he recorded only three assists in Finland, but his job was mainly to hold the best opposition unit in check.

Honors and successes

The Gatineau Olympiques captain helped his team to win the QMJHL 2003-04 regular season championship and to rank second overall in the CHL, only topped by the OHL London Knights.

His huge 2003-04 season totalled 25 goals and 73 assists, ranking him third among scoring leaders, with only phenom Sidney Crosby and Florida Panthers prospect Dany Roussin ahead of him. He is also among the QMJHL leaders in plus/minus, faceoffs won and short handed goal categories.

Talbot has won several honors, QMJHL Offensive Player of the Week in late February, as well as the best CHL Player of the Week. Also in February, he also earned the title of QMJHL Offensive Player of the Month.

In March, a panel of scouts, trainers and writers included Talbot in the top 35 CHL Best Prospects. He ranked fifth in QMJHL, not bad for a 234th draft pick.

A true leader

Talbot’s profile could be compared to NHLer Guy Carbonneau. He has about the same size, he has a great ethic of work with offensive skills while being very much aware of his defense. He is also a great leader.

“There is no doubt that Maxime is the soul and the heart of our team,” said Gatineau coach Benoit Groulx to Hockey’s Future after a recent game in Drummondville, Quebec. “He is both our offensive and defensive leader on the ice, he is also arguably our leader off the ice,” added Groulx.

“His participation to the World Junior Championship made him a better player, the experience having especially contributed to increasing his leadership,” commented Groulx.

Jim Nice is an associate Pat Brisson and IMG, the agency with Talbot is related to. Hockey’s Future spoke to him on March 19th. “Max can accumulate points but what mainly sets him apart from others is his leadership,” commented Nice. “I think he really established himself as a leader since he has been drafted.”

“What also characterizes Max are his heart and his courage, he simply wants it more than other guys and works very hard,” commented Nice. According to Talbot’s agent, “he is the type of player that NHL teams are looking for.”

Talbot on his season and his negotiations with the Penguins

Hockey’s Future met Talbot in the Marcel-Dionne Coliseum on March 14th in Drummondville. He said that the season has been great so far both collectively for the team and personally for him. “The second part of the season was particularly good for me,” said Talbot.

On his experience with Team Canada, he said he learned a lot and kept many positive things even if his team didn’t win the gold medal “for the Canadian fans”, as he said. “It was a huge experience, I gained a lot of maturity in Finland and it helped me to become a better hockey player,” he stated.

Asked what he has improved the most this year, he answered his maturity, his leadership and his confidence on the ice. “I have a better vision of the game on the ice,” he underlined.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have not signed yet their selection. “I don’t have any news from them, they are passive,” stated Talbot. “The deadline for having an agreement is June 1st. Of course, once in a while, this question passes through my head but it doesn’t bother me that much, I just focus to keep concentrating game after game to play well on the ice, that way they will have to ink me, they won’t have the choice,” concluded Talbot.

Will the Penguins sign him?

Because Talbot has improved a lot since he has been drafted, he could decide to not sign with Pittsburgh and be again available at the next NHL Entry Draft. Jim Nice told us that it is a possibility, but his agency generally prefers not to do so.

“It is fairly rare when a player improves his position when he does not sign with the team who originally draft him because NHL teams are always more interested to draft 18-year-old players,” commented Nice.

“We like Pittsburgh as a team because there has a lot of room for young players right now and Max could have a place there sooner than elsewhere,” stated Nice. “We also like Pittsburgh because we have a good relationship with both general manager Craig Patrick and Mario Lemieux,” concluded Nice.

Simon Richard is the author of La Serie du siecle, Septembre 1972, a book about the Summit Series published in 2002.